Hi-Fi Canada: TAVES 2012

by Ken Choi | October 12, 2012

etter known for serving scones with clotted cream at high tea than being rife with audio enthusiasts traipsing about, the staid King Edward Hotel downtown played host to the second Toronto Audio Video Entertainment Show (TAVES) over a crisp early autumn weekend. I missed last year’s event but fondly recall the Toronto audio shows of yore, so I was anxious to see -- and hear -- what this new show was all about.

TAVES was a relatively compact event with some 67 exhibits spread about three floors of the hotel. Even so, the labyrinthine nature of the floor plans made it easy to miss some rooms, which I did. Another excuse for this was that I was charged with “covering” the show -- a first for me. Initially, I was so concerned about getting pictures and correct model numbers with pricing that I spent too little time actually listening. On a second visit, I spent more time with the music, but I still had much catching up to do. There is clearly a learning curve to documenting a show, and I was at the steep end of it.

A local flavor to the show was much in evidence and in particular I was heartened to see at least ten of our brick-and-mortar dealers represented, some showing in multiple rooms. While we hear of the demise of the traditional dealer in certain markets, it was good to see these folks, many of whom have been in business for decades, enthusiastically presenting their wares and for the most part, creating good sounds.

If n=2 constitutes a trend, then there seemed to be a tendency toward system integration -- or diversification, depending on how one would like to position it.

Electronics stalwart Bryston introduced its Model T speaker. Manufactured in collaboration with Ontario-based speaker builder Axiom Audio, the Model T is a substantial three-way floorstander that is available in one of three crossover configurations: a standard passive internal crossover, a passive external crossover and an active external crossover.  The base model with internal crossover ($6495 CDN/pair) was being demoed with a brace of Bryston’s formidable electronics in a large ballroom with lots of foot traffic. Despite the considerable ambient noise, a clean, dynamic presentation was clearly evident.

Meanwhile local speaker maker Focus Audio drove its FP88 SEs ($6800/pair) to very good effect with the company's new 35Wpc Liszt Sonata 6CA7/EL34-based amplifier ($12,000 CDN), which can be configured as an integrated amplifier or as a direct-input power amp. If that pricing seems a little lofty, one might opt for the similarly spec’ed Liszt Prelude ($7800 CDN), which sports a more modest output transformer and reins in the use of ultra-exotic passive parts.

A welcome show trend was the use of smaller, room-appropriate speakers in most of the systems on display. Unlike other shows, I don’t recall walking into any room that was “overloaded” by the sound. There were some bigger setups that were housed in larger rooms, but very few over-the-top, stupid-money systems were to be found.

Room treatments themselves figured in a couple of exhibits, the most notable of which was the Charisma Audio room. In spite of the mellifluous strains of the Tape Project’s version of Bill Evans’ Waltz for Debby playing in the room, my eyes were drawn to a display of attractive wood-and-foam acoustic panels from Vicoustic that Charisma is now importing. This Portuguese company has an extensive catalog of room-treatment devices, including these panels that, depending on the design, act as both mid-to-high-frequency absorbers as well as diffusers. The panels measure 60cm x 60cm, and pricing is anticipated to be in the $60-$80 CDN range per panel.

There were a number of ongoing seminars at TAVES, but it is safe to say that the most popular was our own Roy Gregory’s System Optimization and Set Up seminar, which was presented four times daily to standing-room-only audiences. In fact, I had to shoehorn myself into the room’s back corner for one of the presentations.

Using the recently reviewed KEF Blade speakers ($32,000/pair) and Simaudio Moon electronics, Roy and Paul Wakeen of Stillpoints progressively tweaked this system over the course of an hour. Speaker positioning, cabling, support and isolation strategies made for subtle and at times not-so-subtle changes to the system’s sound.

More novel maneuvers involved the grounding of components and even the racks. No easy access to that grounding rod in the backyard? No problem. Swedish company Entreq makes a wooden box rumored to contain rare-earth minerals to which your ground wires can be tethered.

Another interesting tweak was the use of Leading Edge panels developed by German speaker company Kaiser Acoustics. One of these banal-appearing devices sat along each wall of the room. Removing the pair from the room appeared to have a deleterious effect on the sound. Roy did not have time to explain how these worked, but he did promise the audience that he would write up the seminar for our readership. What I can tell you is that when the whole system was returned to its original state at the end of the seminar, the deterioration in the system’s performance was astounding -- perceptible even from the back corner of the room.

Set up by dealer Toronto Home of Audiophile, my best-sounding smaller system featured Gershman Acoustics' new Idol speakers ($3000 CDN/pair) driven by a Cambridge Audio Azur 651A integrated ($879 CDN) and Azur 651C CD player ($879 CDN). Featuring a compact 10"W x 10"D footprint, this speaker imaged superbly and simply delivered in terms of musicality.

As a former owner of the original Unison Research S6 amplifier and Unico CD player, I remain a fan of both Unison electronics and Opera speakers. At the time I visited, the sumptuous leather-and-mahogany-clad Opera Quinta speakers ($5500 CDN/pair) were being fronted by Unison’s hybrid Unico series Primo CDP ($2060 CDN) and Primo Integrated ($1960 CDN). Especially at the price point, I was mightily impressed by the sound produced in this room, which was lively and detailed with a hint of warmth.

Worldwide Wholesales showed a bicontinental system sourced by Hong Kong‘s Auralic ARK MX+ 32-bit/192kHz USB DAC ($2000 CDN) fed into the all-tube, fully balanced JE Audio VL19 preamp ($3800 CDN) and 35Wpc, KT77-based VS70.1 amplifier ($3800 CDN), also of Hong Kong. The system was anchored by the Casta Model C speakers from Italy ($28,000 CDN/pair), their flagship of the line. Claiming a sensitivity of 98dB, these speakers use horn-loaded midrange and tweeter along with a 15” dynamic woofer that features an Alnico V magnet. Cabling was from HiDiamond, another Italian concern.

This system produced one of my favorite sounds at the show, with the modestly priced electronics acquitting themselves rather well in the company of the big Italian beauties. The sound was fast, transparent, and timbrally correct.

Crown Mountain Imports featured UK-based Kudos Audio’s Cardea Super 10 stand-mounts ($7190 CDN/pair) that share cabinets with the company’s longstanding reference C10 speakers. That’s where the similarities end though, as the Cardea Super 10s utilize custom-made SEAS tweeter and midrange-bass driver units along with upgraded crossover parts and design. Electronics, all from Mimetism of France, included the 35.2 preamplifier ($5700 CDN), 45.2 amplifier ($6850 CDN) and 20.1 CD player ($8000 CDN). The robust Track Audio speaker stands ($2900 CDN/pair) no doubt contributed to the sound.

Blessed by being in a nicely proportioned room, this system just sang, producing a big soundfield that belied the speakers’ 12-liter internal volumes. The sound was dense and exceptionally well balanced with a very commendable sense of musical flow. For me, this system was best of show.

My favorite big system was in one of distributor Tri-Cell Enterprises’ rooms, where was shown the top-of-the-line ASW Magadis speakers ($28,000 CDN/pair) driven by an Acoustic Arts Amp 2 both from Germany. The Leto preamp ($7600 CDN) and Andros phono stage ($4100 CDN) were from Zesto Audio in the US and the source was a Kronos turntable ($28,000 CDN) from Canada fitted with a Tri-Planar tonearm and Dynavector XV-1t cartridge ($9250). The sound that issued forth from this system was both big and spacious but at the same time relaxed and nuanced -- the perfect recipe for extended listening sessions.

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